The release of 86 Palestinian security prisoners scheduled for early Monday morning was finally underway Monday noon after a several hours' delay. In the first stage, 57 prisoners from the West Bank were sent by buses to the Bituniya crossing near Ramallah, where they were to cross over to the Palestinian side.
In the second stage, the 29 prisoners who are Gaza residents will be taken to the Erez crossing. One of the prisoners will remain in prison after it was discovered that he is a Hamas member.
No official reason was given for the delay Monday morning although it appears President Shimon Peres had delayed signing 26 pardons of prisoners who had been sentenced by a civilian court.
The IPS has transferred all the prisoners set to be freed to the Ktziot prison in the south during the last week. Before they are released, all the prisoners will undergo final identification and will have to sign a statement declaring they vow not to engage in terrorist activities ever again.
Prisoners awaiting release at Ktziot prison (Photo: AP)
Following this the prisoners will be taken by secured buses to the Bituniya crossing near Ramallah, where they will cross over to Palestinian Authority territory. The 29 prisoners who are Gaza residents will be transferred to the Erez crossing in the Strip.
Petition against release rejected
The High Court of Justice rejected Sunday evening a petition filed by the Almagor Terror Victims Association to issue an injunction against the release of the prisoners. The groups claimed that the release constituted a "grave danger to the Israeli citizens."
After the High Court decision was made public, Almagor appealed to Attorney General Menachem Mazuz in a bid to block the prisoner release.
Earlier Sunday, President Shimon Peres pardoned 26 of the prisoners. The prisoners were sentenced in Israeli civil courts and their release required the president's pardon. The release of the remaining 61 prisoners hinges on a special pardon by IDF command chiefs because they were sentenced by military courts.
The prisoners' release was made possible after the cabinet approved the move last week as a Ramadan goodwill gesture to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Most of the prisoners included in the list were scheduled to be freed by 2012.
Raanan Ben-Zur, Efrat Weiss and Ronny Sofer contributed to the report